Category Archives: Movies

Review of Ken Burns’ Prohibition

Ken Burns’ newest documentary, Prohibition, is a great look at this very important but poorly understood national test of government’s ability to legislate morality. I found the movie absolutely fascinating, especially the first two parts (there are three parts), which was primarily about how Prohibition was enacted. Here are some interesting things I learned:

  • School systems taught little children the evils of drinking. When those kids came of voting age, many voted for prohibition.
  • The leadership role taken by women’s group in passing and then repealing Prohibition.
  • Prohibition would never have been possible without the income tax amendment ratified in 1913. Prior to 1913, the federal government got much of its revenue from excise taxes on liquor. With the income tax, the government no longer needed that revenue stream and was willing to go along with Prohibition.
  • Anti-German sentiment during World War I helped push Prohibition because most of the beer brewers were owned by German immigrants.
  • While the documentary focuses on Prohibition, it also clearly reveals the dramatic political change that was taking place in the United States at the time: a switch from small-government republicanism to democratic progressivism.

I watched most of this series on my iPod while riding the NYC subway, so was unable to take notes. Therefore, I offer no full review. Hopefully, the interesting tidbits listed above will convince you that this documentary on Prohibition is worth watching.